A Gospel Way of Doing

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Several weeks back, I found myself in Vancouver with nothing to do. So I left my hotel room to wander around the city and made it about fifty feet before stumbling into The Paper Hound, an amazing boutique used bookstore. The surprise of finding such an excellent shop along with the fine selection of books made me go tharn. I determined to return to my room for a few minutes to collect my wits and mentally prepare a list of titles to search. This is how I discovered my hotel room rested directly above the bookshop. The serendipity was irrefutable. I knew I had to spend time and money below the floorboards of The Victorian, where I was staying.

Over at Alan Jacobs’s Text Patterns blog, I have been following his technological history of modernity project. The thought occurred to me that so long as I was in Canada, I might try searching for a Canadian author in a Canadian used bookstore. Jacobs recommends Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology. She was German but made her life and scholastic career in Canada. Good enough. So I trotted out of my squeaky-floored hotel room, down the hall, past the fire escape, out of the front door, down the stairs, around the corner, and into the lusty smell of The Paper Hound’s book stacks, where I took my time getting to the section I figured would contain Franklin’s book. It did.

Ursula Franklin is my new favorite Wendell Berry. That sentiment, however, must wait for another blog post. (Though, I hope it has piqued your interest enough to rush out and find a copy of The Real World of Technology to read.) For now, I want to get down an out-of-the-way quote from an early chapter and then ask a question. In this passage, Franklin is describing how we do things in certain ways and the way we do things can identify who we are. Here is what she says,

On another occasion I sat in the back of a large meeting room, listening to a long and boring discussion. I began to knit. A young woman came over, sat down next to me, and whispered, “I’d like to talk to you. You knit just like my mother.” Of course, her mother was also German, and there is a German way of knitting.

I began to wonder, does anyone ever see me doing anything and recognize the way I am doing it, like how Ursula Franklin knits like a German? I am Italian but aside from belching like my grandfather, I do not suspect anyone would ever notice me doing anything like an Italian. Being from San Diego it is possible my casual demeanor might give me away as hailing from Southern California. But do I do things like a San Diegan?

Especially on my heart and mind, do I do things like a Christian? If I were at a conference for my work in digital marketing, could I imagine someone crossing a meeting hall to sit next to me: “I’d like to talk to you. The way you take notes in your Moleskine reminds me of my dad. He was a pastor.”

There is a cynical way to think about the Christian way to do things. I am skeptical when it comes to the Christian versions of coffee shops and clothing. It is possible, I am sure, to open a Christian coffee shop or create a Christian line of clothing. But that is not the kind of doing that Franklin is talking about or that I am wondering about. When she began to knit, she did not declare herself to be a German knitter. She just was, and it was noticeable. A Christian way to do things might include declaring belief, like adding an ichthus under the name of the coffee shop or on the label of the clothing. But in that example someone would notice what is declared, not what is done. In Franklin’s example someone noticed what was done, not what was declared.

In the same way that there is a noticeably German way to do knitting, is there a noticeably Christian way to…? There could be many ways to complete that sentence. How about this one. In the same way that there is a noticeably German way to do knitting, is there a noticeably Christian way to do art?

Profile photo of David Michael Bruno

Dave is an author, educator, and advocate of living simply. Dave has spoken nationally and internationally about simplicity. He has appeared in Time Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, the London Times, and The Guardian, and has been a guest of the 700 Club. His book The 100 Thing Challenge (HarperCollins, 2010) tells the story of his simple-living journey and the worldwide movement it contributed to. Dave holds an M.A. from Wheaton College and a B.A. from Moody Bible Institute. He works at Point Loma Nazarene University and lives in San Diego with his wife and three daughters.


12 Comments

  1. Kim F

    Excellent. Thank you, Dave…

    (Have a long-distance friendship with a young artist that has yet to meet Jesus, and this is a topic we discuss frequently… what it means for me to continually create with the singular purpose to please God and not my client or employer…)

  2. Laure Hittle

    i love this question.

    What i’m reminded of first is Sam Smith’s distinction between telling true stories and telling stories truthfully, and the need to do both. And yesterday in church i was reminded that we need space for honest lament, as well as reminders that the brokenness in our world is not the way things will always be, that G-d is much, much larger than that brokenness. It seems to me that because the narrative of scripture contains both fallenness and resurrection, we as Christians can (and must) tell stories which acknowledge sin and brokenness but also point past that reality to a larger, truer reality, that all will be remade and that hope is real and does not disappoint. We can embrace both dyscatastrophe and eucatastrophe, and in so doing, embrace our readers with honesty and hope.

  3. Chris Yokel

    Funny you should mention coffee shops, Jen and I were visiting a new church yesterday and the pastor was explaining their vision to open a cafe in their space. He mentioned a few specific things that might touch on what you’re talking about:

    They want their portions sizes to be generous, because God is.
    They want their products to have quality, because God makes good things.
    They want their atmosphere to be warm and gracious, because God is.
    They want to be deliberate about how they obtain their products, because God cares about justice and the poor.
    They want their space to be artistic, because God is an artist.

  4. Miss Linda

    I suspect that there are Christian ways to do almost everything, but that they may or may not be as easy to see as “German” knitting. It will often involve motives of the heart, which may or may not be readily apparent to others.

    George MacDonald thought there were distinctly Christian ways to do many things, or at least ways that a Christian’s faith will be lived out and evidenced in their work. Several of his books have different characters trying to learn how to live out their faith within the realm of their career. I remember his description of how Mary Marsten’s father kept a shop differently than his partner. Thomas Wingfold has to learn how to preach only what he really knows and believes, rather than what others expect him to say.

    The part I am less sure of is whether different Christians doing the same action will always do it the same way or whether there are multiple ways that their identity might show through. Interesting question!

  5. Lisa

    This Canadian is delighted to see a mention of my “home and native land” here at the Rabbit Room. Sadly I have never heard of Ursula Franklin, but I will definitely check her out!

    Interesting question you pose. I am pondering it and am enjoying the responses so far. I’m not sure I have anything new to add except to say that the whole idea of sticking crosses and fish symbols on things and calling them “Christian” makes me cringe.

  6. Justin Brown

    It seems to me that a few foundational principles would help define the way a Christian would do a job. God honoring and exalting in content and production. There would be no morally wrong actions involved. A Christian car salesman wouldn’t lie or shade the truth. A Christian manager would actually care and love there employees. A Christian worker would work as to the Lord. Most importantly a Christiams priority structure would be counter cultural to their peers. An emphasis on family, church, and the gospel would be things that would help shape how you appear at work.

  7. Jody Lee Collins

    Dave, from a fellow (Southern)Californian, I applaud your thoughts here. These lines made me pause:
    “in that example someone would notice what is declared, not what is done.
    In Franklin’s example someone noticed what was done, not what was declared.”
    I can’t speak to the question of what Christian art would look like but I can speak to the ‘what was done’ part that someone would notice.
    A gentlemen at the table next to us in a restaurant the other night was very inebriated, which was clear to everyone around him, including my husband and I. When he stood up to leave and attempted to exit the place a couple of stairs tripped him up and he fell.
    My husband immediately got up to go check on him (which was thoughtful) but what I noticed was a young man who came back to the gentlemen’s table to retrieve his cel phone and his cane. He muttered something about his grandfather needing a cane and it would be needed.
    No declarations of disgust at the man’s drunken state, just a gracious hand to help, to cover him, so to speak, and his sin…. I thought to myself, ‘That young man didn’t say anything about Jesus at all but I’ll bet he’s a Christian.”
    I noticed that.

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